Photo: Gage Skidmore
On Wednesday, President-elect Donald Trump nominated Scott Pruitt, Attorney General of Oklahoma, to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The decision triggered an immediate backlash among the scientific community, prompting the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) to issue a scathing rebuttal, calling Pruitt’s nomination “unacceptable” and potentially “devastating to the EPA’s ability to carry out its mission.”
The EPA’s stated mission “is to protect human health and the environment” by ensuring compliance with laws regulating the discharge of pollution, including industrial emissions and waste. This mission puts it at odds with the President-elect’s nominee. Mr. Pruitt, it must be noted, has received over $300,000 in campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry since 2002.
Pruitt has not only accepted money from oil and gas, he’s also proven himself a certifiable shill for the industry. In 2011, Pruitt sent a letter to the EPA stating that the agency had overestimated the amount of air pollution caused by drilling new natural gas wells in Oklahoma. Here’s the thing: though Mr. Pruitt signed the letter, it was actually written by lawyers for Devon Energy, one of the biggest oil and gas companies in his state. Pruitt’s complicity with this corruption was showcased in a 2014 New York Times article that revealed an “unprecedented, secretive alliance that Mr. Pruitt and other Republican attorneys general have formed with some of the nation’s top energy producers.”
These attorneys general – at least a dozen in all – were fighting back against President Obama’s climate change and clean energy policies in exchange for record amounts of money from fossil fuel interests. That by itself should disqualify any of them from running a federal agency whose aim is to police industrial emissions.
But Pruitt also denies scientific facts. Writing in the National Review, Pruitt claimed the global warming “debate is far from settled,” and that “[s]cientists continue to disagree about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind.” This is not true. Over 97 percent of climate scientists agree that humans are influencing global warming with emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases.
In short, Pruitt’s refutation of scientific facts and his intimate connection with Big Oil & Gas should disqualify him for any office designed to reign in pollution.
Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, issued this blunt statement on the President-elect’s nomination: “Scott Pruitt is the wrong choice to run the Environmental Protection Agency. […] Pruitt has a clear record of hostility to the EPA’s mission, and he is a completely inappropriate choice to lead it.”
Kimmell enumerated the attorney general’s list of disqualifications: repeatedly suing the EPA to stop it from carrying out its work, questioning “clear scientific evidence for climate change” and resisting science-based rules that protect air and water from pollution. “[H]is tenure as administrator would be devastating to the EPA’s ability to carry out its mission,” he wrote, and to the Americans who rely on it.
Kimmell is far from Pruitt’s only critic. In an email to Time Magazine, Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, wrote that “Scott Pruitt has built his political career by trying to undermine EPA’s mission of environmental protection. He is a deeply troubling choice.”
Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch, has said of Pruitt: “Attorney generals are supposed to be attorneys for the people… Pruitt is clearly an attorney for the fossil fuel industry.”
Trip Van Noppen, president of Earthjustice, told Think Progress, “Every American should be appalled that President-elect Trump just picked someone who has made a career of being a vocal defender for polluters to head our Environmental Protection Agency. He has fought Environmental Protection Agency pollution limits on toxic substances like soot and mercury that put us all at risk for increased cancer, childhood asthma and other health problems. He falsely claims that fracking doesn’t contaminate drinking water supplies.”
“Scott Pruitt running the EPA is like the fox guarding the henhouse,” Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement. “The League of Conservation Voters strongly opposes this nomination and urges senators to vote against Scott Pruitt’s confirmation.”
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) sits on the committee that will decide whether to confirm or oppose Trump’s nomination. He has made no secret of his feelings:
“At a time when climate change is the great environmental threat to the entire planet, it is sad and dangerous that Mr. Trump has nominated Scott Pruitt to lead the E.P.A. The American people must demand leaders who are willing to transform our energy system away from fossil fuels. I will vigorously oppose this nomination.”